Richard Silverstein, 11 January 2011
Amnon Danker, former editor of one of Israel’s most popular dailies, Maariv, has written a scathing essay excoriating Israel and the current political situation there. The terms he uses are savage and unsparing. It’s rare for such mainstream cultural and media figures to speak in such unconditional terms about the state of latter-day Israeli society.
Here is my translation of the most important passages:
It’s quite clear that if our [national] life continues in the manner it has been evolving, good, moderate, balanced and humane individuals will no longer be able to live here. Before our very eyes with results that grow every stronger, Israeli society is changing, the political culture is changing. Checks and balances are violated and are swept to the winds by this awful spirit which blows through our lives and dyes them with an ever-deepening shade of black.
It seems that things that were repressed within the Israeli soul and well-hidden through shame are suddenly bursting forth with a sense of liberation, dancing obscenely in the public square. It’s now acceptable to be overtly racist and to be proud of it. It’s acceptable to disparage democracy and be proud of that. Acceptable to steal and rob and trample on rights when it concerns Arabs. And acceptable to be proud of this. There are Knesset members for whom this is one of their specialties and they do it with smiles they don’t even bother to conceal. There are entire parties whose tenor and tone arouse feelings of horror and terrifying memories [a reference to Nazism].
How is it possible for example that there are people who sat and calculated the needs for feeding children and removed these necessities from the list of products permitted to enter Gaza? They sat and counted sweets and halva and toys and who the hell knows what else and crossed them out with an “x” and explained to us that this was a critical part of toppling Hamas’ rule. And we took these wicked fools seriously and put our faith in them. After what happened with the Marmara we lifted the sweets siege and even permitted the import of coriander into Gaza. No disaster happened besides that we remained in this great exposed space loitering in front of the gates of Gaza though our own naked, wicked stupidity.
Worst of all is that the this wickedness wears a kippah on its head and is an observant Jew. His head is bursting with rabbis letters [directing Jews not to rent apartments to Arabs] and books advocating murder [of Arabs, a reference to Sefer HaMelech by a settler rabbi advocating murdering Palestinian children], and racist publications, and pogroms perpetrated on Arab villages, and neo-Nazi expressions in the Knesset. How it makes the blood boil to hear this stance advocated too many times by one rabbi or another, who truly does us a favor by not quite saying what we’re all really thinking. That is, that it’s acceptable to think this way and that only for fear of the evil eye we have to quiet ourselves until the day comes when we can say what we really think and then we’ll really stick it to ‘em [the Arabs].
What adds to my sense of depression is the awareness that demographic processes are turning our society more and more religious, more and more racist and venomous, more and more withdrawn and violent.
For a man of my age who wasted serious parts of his life writing in newspapers about these issues, to see that I did all this out of great hope that has come to naught and was based on illusions and naiveté; what happens now is a particular type of bitterness and disillusion. To see Israeli society change its nature so quickly, becoming something you never thought you’d see outside of nightmares, it breaks your heart. To begin to feel ashamed at being Israeli, and to know with not a small amount of confidence that such a feeling will grow, it depresses you utterly.
I regret to say that there was a time when such a heartfelt cry moved me to tears, made me proud in a depressing sort of way that there were still Israelis who felt this way, who had a conscience, even if they were a beleaguered minority. Now, I’m a bit more jaded. Dankner is, no doubt an important voice, perhaps even an Israeli bellwether. But there’s been too much “shooting and crying” among Israeli liberals. This may be more of the same.
Or it really may portend the sort of wake up call that Israelis need to hear. When the former editor of Israel’s most popular daily newspaper says he’s becoming ashamed of his own country, many may sit up and take notice. So I give Dankner, Churchill’s famous two and a half cheers.